Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Weekly Column: The Emotional Reasons for Spending

The emotional reasons for spending

There are many reasons why people spend—or overspend—their money. We spend to celebrate, to fit in, to project an image of success and capability, to show our love. Beyond the responsibility of bills and life’s necessities, we are also subjected to a barrage of advertising that tells us our next purchase will make us fashionable, cool, respected, envied…. happy.

Often, people don’t question their impulse to buy more. We might need only a few things, yet consistently bring home extras we didn’t know we needed. This can be especially true when shopping online. Who hasn’t gone in search of a specific item only to end up down the rabbit hole with a shopping cart full of unexpected wants and “needs”? The question is, once you come up for air, do you pull the trigger on those purchases or do you sleep on it and reconsider the desire to spend more than you had planned?

Spending is an emotional process

It would be interesting to know what makes a person spend extra money on nonessentials, particularly when money is tight. In many cases, people are seeking to fill an emotional need they don’t realize they have. They might think “what’s the harm” in one or two nice things for themselves or their kids? After all, that $40, $60 or $100 isn’t going to do much to help their financial situation, right?

When feeling stressed, bored, underappreciated or unhappy, treating yourself to something new might not seem like the worst thing you could do. But over time, and unchecked, this emotional spending can make a bad situation much worse and add unnecessary stress to life and relationships—possibly triggering more spending and stress in the process.

The immediate personal gratification of buying yourself something new can be a feeling you want to repeat over and over. The thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction you feel at acquiring what you sought can overshadow the reality that you don’t need or can’t afford to be shopping. For many, the euphoria quickly fades, sometimes into feelings of guilt, and the stress lingers until the pursuit of something new begins again. It turns out that the emotional hole is one that cannot be filled with possessions, no matter how much time and money gets spent trying.

Question the need to shop

In a world that is quickly filling up with disposable toys, appliances, electronics and other garbage, there are a multitude of reasons to curb the consumerism our society promotes. Top among them is the possibility that all that spending and all that “stuff” is not actually bringing you want you want: acceptance and happiness. Often, the pressure to find a place for your new things, keep them clean, store them or dispose of them creates a sense of more to do in an already too-busy lifestyle. All-in-all, you might find yourself better off once you identify what is driving your need to shop.

Before allowing yourself to purchase something impulsively, ask yourself some questions. Will I use this? Do I actually need this? Will I still want this in five years? One year? If I leave it for now, would I bother to come back for it tomorrow? Quite often the answer will be no.

If the impulse to shop for unnecessary things persists, you might ask yourself a few more questions. Are you feeling unfulfilled in your career or relationship? Have you ceased to challenge yourself in other areas and are you in a rut that shopping can’t get you out of? Is it more serious than that? Have you suffered a loss and are you struggling to get back on your feet? Do you feel bad about yourself and have you stopped seeing the good in everyday life?

Nurture the spirit

There’s no amount of personal bling that can boost your spirits like having a real, genuine friend to talk to. Learning something new, challenging your body and mind, will invigorate you more than any object you could buy. Investing in your own personal development might not come for free but, in the end, you will have more to show for it (and hopefully be happier) than continuing the costly and self-destructive cycle of overspending on material things.

People have many reasons for spending their money the way that they do. They might be repeating the lifestyle they were raised in or maybe they’ve never thought of changing their ways. If they’re caught up on bills and have emergency funds and retirement money set aside, there is no real harm in indulging a few extravagant whims. But when people find themselves in a lifestyle they can’t sustain, maybe it’s time to stop seeking creature comforts and look within for the need you are trying fill.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Weekly Column: Food Waste is a Crying Shame

Food waste is a crying shame

About one third of the planet’s food goes to waste, often because it doesn’t look perfect. According to The National Geographic, that’s enough to feed 2 billion people.

That’s shameful.

According to the same article (, 6 billion pounds of US fruits and vegetables go either unharvested or unsold annually, often because the product isn’t flawless.

While families go hungry worldwide, tons of bananas get dumped for being too short, too long or too curved. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN, enough food is squandered annually (about 2.9 trillion pounds per year) to feed the world’s 800 million hungry people twice over.

In developing nations, much of the waste is due to lack of storage, refrigeration or roads. But what is our excuse?

In developed countries, retailers might not accept imperfect looking produce. In other cases, it might get discarded due to overstocking. And, sadly, in almost every home it spoils in the fridge and gets tossed out without ever being served. Imagine the produce that you purchase at considerable cost manages to be marketed and then, at the point of consumption, gets forgotten or otherwise wasted. We are all guilty of this. Food waste, whether on factory farms, at the retailer, or in your own garbage, is the third largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world (behind only China and the US).

That’s obscene.

Consider the amount of water, fertilizer, fuel and pesticides wasted to produce food that nobody eats. And yet the cost of groceries continues to rise and many people wonder how they will afford to give their children the healthy foods their growing bodies need.

Here’s how

The next time you see fruit or vegetables labeled “imperfect” and offered at a reduced price at your preferred grocery store, buy them. Get over the superficial need for things to be perfect. Yes, you want quality food. But does that mean all the potatoes in the bag need to be uniform in size? Carrots must be perfectly straight? Maybe it’s time to start cutting the worm holes out of apples and accepting some blemishes on our food. Nature does not and should not produce impeccable, flawless food. What it does is provide a bounty large enough for everyone.

If we expect one third of what is grown to be thrown out because it doesn’t look good enough, we are doing something seriously wrong. The only way to change the beliefs of retailers is to create a demand for less expensive, imperfect food. The only people that can create that demand is us, the consumers, and the power is in our wallets.

Here at home

According to the CBC, Canada wastes $31 billion in food per year. The average Canadian household throws out between $1000-1500 in food per year.


Don’t you think you could find a better use for that $1500? We are working to buy the food, then throwing it out and, in many cases, working more to pay for it to be accepted at the dump. You may not think that tossing that head of lettuce or that bag of oranges is costing you much, but viewed over a year or a lifetime you have to look at the consequences of buying food grown thousands of miles away, transported to a local store, then purchased and tossed in the garbage.

Stop the cycle

  • ·         Don’t buy 2 for 1 deals if you can’t possibly eat it before it rots. Better yet, buy it and donate or give away the excess
  • ·         Freeze what you can’t eat. Rather than watch your bread mould on the countertop, freeze it and use it slice by slice. Learn to blanch vegetables and freeze them before they spoil (immerse in boiling water for 10 seconds then rapidly cool in ice water and freeze—not rocket science!)
  • ·         Buying in bulk does not save you money if you often throw out unused portions. That 5 pack of Costco salad dressing is not cheaper when you throw two bottles away after their best-before date
  • ·         Use your discretion. Best before dates are an educated guess at how fresh a product will remain. If something smells foul, don’t eat it. Use a menu-plan to keep track of what needs used up and follow through by cooking and eating what you have
  • ·         Eat leftovers
  • ·         Rotate the food in your pantry and freezer to be sure nothing gets overlooked and eventually wasted
  • ·         Buy and demand “imperfect” fruit and vegetables at your local grocery store

Learn more about the food waste problem

If you didn’t catch the recent  Marketplace on CBC, you can watch it online. There is a documentary called “Just Eat It” available to watch for free on Watch these with your kids and finish your vegetables!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Going Whole Hog

A question that crosses my mind quite regularly is whether or not it is "worth it" to grow my own food, heat with wood, bake my own bread, make syrup from sap and the list goes on. Admittedly, there are days where it would certainly be easier to pick up what we need from the store rather than wait for it to grow or fix it, mend it or do without it. But there's something about quick and convenient that just doesn't set right with me. It seems somehow wrong to allow my kids to think everything comes easy, because in real life it doesn't. I am cautious about handing them everything they want as kids because I want them to adjust to adult life and be productive hard workers. Basically, I want them to see how long it takes for fruit to grow on a tree and experience how much better it tastes when you have watched it ripen. That's an analogy we could apply to many things we do around here.

There is something deeply gratifying about eating a meal you grew entirely on your own. Or foraging for native berries and having the time to visit the beach before going home. Or breaking bread that you baked yourself and enjoying it with homemade butter and jam made from the berries you picked that day you played on the beach. That is not to say that everyone needs to make their own butter to lead a fulfilled life! Mostly I mean slowing down to do some of the tasks that are often hired out. Blue berries from a store, air conditioned comfort, prepackaged life.

The money saved by doing these quiet, contemplative tasks is often negligible. By the time I buy the flour and yeast and work to bake the bread I may be money down, depending on the price of the flour. But what of my sanity?

What price do I put on teaching my sons age-old skills that, should they need them, will allow them to feed themselves no matter what they decide to do with their lives? When they learn to care for animals, haul the water, provide the shelter and feed, they think about a world bigger than themselves and their own wants. When they pick the berries and eat the jam they value the labour that goes into their food. When they stack the wood they learn to plan for tomorrow and use their bodies for useful tasks. They have all the space they want to run in, play in, grow in, and that is indeed priceless.

My friend had my kids over to decorate pumpkins with stickers. Since my own pumpkins didn't grow I planned to bake them down for making pumpkin bread. The pumpkins sat until I finally needed to get them out of the garage. I was busy and had a messy kitchen after a long tiring day. I wondered if it was worth it to bother. But why would I compost 4 perfectly good pumpkins then turn around and buy canned pumpkin at the store?

pumpkin puree
While supper cooked, the pumpkin bakes in the oven and I had the whole mess cleaned up by the time the kids were ready for bed.

pumpkin seeds
 We also enjoyed the roasted seeds very much. I ended up with 5 and a half Ziploc bags of puree, enough for 10 loaves of pumpkin bread. At around $3/can I saved $15, had a lovely visit with a neighbour while my kids played, and taught my kids to use up what might go to waste. Instead of spending money, I spent some time preparing local, chemical-free food.

Similarly, we recently had our pigs butchered. At different times this summer I really regretted venturing into pigs. Hauling the grain for them was time consuming and laborious and keeping their water clean and fresh was a chore I didn't love. I had to ask my mom to do my chores while we were away in the summer, which was quite a bit, and I hated to add to anyone's work load. Basically, the pigs were a lot of work but they were entertaining and they ate our kitchen and garden waste along with a couple tons of grain that I hauled here pail by pail from my parent's farm. Let's just say that when the job was finally done I wanted to have as much to show for it as possible. So I rendered the pig fat into lard.

back fat trimmings

fat, chopped and rendering in slow cooker
rendered fat, unfiltered 

our own lard, from our own pigs

Not everyone is going to render down their own pig fat. I giggle even as I type the words. But I do a lot of baking and my sister in law likes making pastry. Canola oil went up to $9/gallon last winter. I expect I'll end up with about 6-8 pint sealers of lard by the time I'm done. This is all by-product that might have gone to waste. At $2/lb I could much easier go buy Tenderflake at Walmart, where I saw it just this morning. But that's not my point.

Living a simple, frugal life is about more than saving $15 on lard. It is about taking yourself out of the consumer transaction whenever possible. It might actually be more frugal to feed the fat trimmings to the dog and buy lard at the store, I don't know. But living an invested life means doing the work ourselves to prevent wasting what we have on hand. If there are saskatoons growing roadside my kids and I are going to pick and freeze them for winter rather than get berries at the grocery store. When butter is $6/lb we will buy the cheaper whole cream, make our own butter and bake with the buttermilk. I am lucky that I have the time to cook and bake and mend and grow things. I know not everyone has that option, and not everyone would choose this lifestyle. That's okay too. You should follow your arrow. My arrow seems always to lead me to a simple, quiet path where everything takes longer and is just a little less convenient.

There are certainly times that I curse my penchant for homegrown. There were many days I said "never again" as I lugged heavy pails of grain to those pigs. I am planning a post on the actual cost of raising the three pigs and, on paper at least, it was probably not a money-saving venture. The next time we do it (if we do) we will have to butcher pigs ourselves to save on the considerable cost of processing the animals. But, again, these would be skills that allow us to learn and invest ourselves and save money. In a way, jumping in with both feet, or going "whole hog" is the best way to learn every facet of what we are interested in. And we seem to be interested. Learning to slaughter and process our own animals is the next logical step in our progress here. For now, we are just going to enjoy the food and be proud that we did a good job and made it through to the harvest.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Weekly Column: 30 Minute Meals

30 minute meals

In keeping with last week’s topic, menu-planning for busy weeknights, it is helpful for busy parents to have a back-up plan for when find yourself unprepared. Although a menu-plan will help keep you organized, sometimes you will eat in one meal what you thought could stretch into two…sometimes company drops in, a child is home sick, or you will forget to thaw meat. These things happen. But how can you get everyone fed without resorting to the most expensive alternatives: drive thru or take out?

Stockpile some quick fixes

Whenever you have small portions leftover, consider freezing them for quick weeknight meals. For example, a cup of leftover rice might be frozen then later combined with leftover beans, some seasoning, and reheated to make burritos or enchiladas. Toss together a quick salad and you have created a quick, balanced meal that costs virtually nothing extra. Compare this to a $40-50 take-out meal. If you can reduce the number of times you eat out, you will be doing your budget a real favour.
Some other quick fix ideas include keeping Ziploc bags marked in the freezer for different kids of soups. Rather than throwing out portions of mashed potatoes and vegetables, save them for hearty weeknight soups. Do the same with leftover meat, and be sure to incorporate soups into your regular menu-plan to avoid overwhelming your freezer.

The incredible, edible egg

Breakfast for supper is an affordable option that can be written into a weekly menu-plan, anytime. Even if you haven’t planned on it, breakfast-type meals can bail you out when you find yourself stuck with no supper prepared. Bacon, ham or sausage thaws quickly in the microwave while omelettes can use up odds and ends from the fridge. Pancakes or French toast are ready in minutes and can be served with a dish of fruit for fibre and nutrients. Leftover baked potatoes can be fried with omelette ingredients and topped with cheese all in the same pan for a delicious, low mess pan scrambler. When you find yourself in a rush for food, do a quick survey of what you have on hand and make the effort to feed your family at home.

Wraps, stir fries and buns

If you’ve kept some portions of leftover meat in your freezer you can quickly thaw them in the microwave to use in wraps, sandwiches or stir fries. Cans of ham, chicken, tuna and the like can also be mixed with mayo for a cheap and easy sandwich filling. If you’d rather go meatless, washing and slicing vegetables does not take long and can be done while rice or noodles cook. Quickly sliced French bread or buns baked with sauce, pepperoni and cheese make mini pizza the kids will love. You may prefer a meat and potatoes meal to end your day, but if you are out of time and ideas these options will get you through a hectic evening so you can try to do better tomorrow.

One Dish Wonders

It sure saves time if you can prepare a meal in one pot. If hamburger helper is not your thing, you can improvise with your own pasta creations. As your pasta cooks, add your preferred vegetables to the pot to cook. Drain when the pasta and vegetables are tender. At this point you can add whatever precooked meat, sauce or cheese you have on hand for an incredibly fast meal. The same can be done with rice.

Rely on yourself

There are dozens of other quick meal ideas out there, too many to list. Look online for meals that suit your taste. The point is not to tell people what they should be eating but rather to give them the confidence that they can throw together a meal that is not terribly unhealthy, does not cost much, and does not take much time or effort to prepare.

Everyone has those days where things didn’t go according to plan. Maybe you worked late, the game went into overtime, traffic was bad, you veered from your menu-plan, or the cows got out. The fact is, these things happen. When everyone arrives home, tired and hungry, there needs to be a way to feed them and get them to bed so you can do it all again tomorrow.

By keeping some emergency food on hand (preferably leftovers that might otherwise go to waste) you are enabling yourself to prepare quick meals on the go without ordering in. Some pantry staples like soup and stock, noodles, rice, tomato sauce and pasta will help you through busy evenings. Keep your fridge stocked with basics like eggs, milk, butter and cheese plus your preferred fruit and vegetables.

Keep some essentials on hand so that, even at your busiest, you can eat affordably at home.

Monday, 14 November 2016


A lot has happened in the last week. In many ways, it doesn't feel like the same world as it was only days ago--but maybe I have changed and the world is the same as it always was. Maybe I just look at it a bit differently now.

A working relationship has turned out to be...not what I expected. Or perhaps my feelings are hurt and I am coming to terms with that happening, at this age, when I didn't know I could still feel so small and young and vulnerable. The relationship will continue, for now at least. It still fulfills a dream. But my eyes are open now, and I will look out for Number One. That said, I am comforted to know that where there is discord there is often growth. What hurts today will give me knowledge and experience tomorrow.

I attended a writer's retreat. I am so very proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and investing in myself. It was an inspiring, emotional and enlightening few days that part of me didn't want to see end. Yes, I missed my family. It was hard to leave. But even as I drove away I knew that it was good for all of us that I give the kids a chance to have time alone with daddy--a "guy's weekend". It was good for them to see (and do) all of the jobs that I carry out in a day to make their lives run smoothly. It was good for them to work together in the yard and go to town and spend every waking minute together.

It was very beneficial for me to retreat from the world for a few days after seeing Trump elected president. I don't want to talk politics here; I am not knowledgeable enough to argue and it's just too raw and personal. It's hard, though, to respect friends and family that can overlook his blatant hatefulness with the rationale that he might somehow help our economy here in Canada. If he doesn't manage to blow the world up first, that is. It's just gross. I can't talk about it.

So the timing of the retreat was perfect, as were the setting and the participants. Our facilitator spoke about uncertainty, both in terms of the election and the world and in terms of our feelings as emerging writers. How not to allow our uncertainty (of our talents and abilities and of where our stories might lead) to hamper our pursuit of the creative life. Our work might not be polished and professional yet, but it is ours and we should embrace that. The writers that I spent the weekend with shared some quotes that helped put all of this into perspective and I thought I would share them here, as well.

The Real Work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

by Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems, 1987

We heard of the death of Leonard Cohen, also, while on retreat. It was an interesting setting in which to contemplate the life and death of someone so masterful at putting feelings and observations into words.

"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in"  --Leonard Cohen

If there is one thing that I have learned it is that I may not be able to control the reality happening around me but I can control my reaction to it. I can combat hate with love, impatience with understanding, fear with tolerance. Although it feels helpless right now, the path to take will reveal itself in time. What I take away from this past week, the good and the bad of it, is that we cannot be comfortable all the time. We won't always have work and life go our way. Plans and elections might go completely south. It is okay to be uncertain, and live in uncertain times. Great action and inspiring
relationships are born out of uncertainty.

"We are prone to fear. The world is a mass of confusion. Traditions are ridiculed. Mythologies are forgotten. True freedom is a curse. Natural disasters are unnaturally common. Celebrities have replaced heroes. Ideals have been replaced by images. Many are running scared and only too willing to embrace the forces that offer a respite from the winds of change. What can we believe in? God, country, ourselves? What can we be certain about? Death, decay, oppression? What are we willing to risk, defend, support and dream? What would we like to be certain of: life span, love life, finances, and security? Can we gain anything without giving something up? Is there faith without risk? If you knew without question what was going to happen next, would there be any real satisfaction in it happening? The greater the risk, the greater the faith. Embracing uncertainty is to say yes to life: to say yes to the death and destruction, the success and failure, the tragedy and the triumph. Lord Byron said that the great art of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even in pain. The beauty of uncertainty is that it allows us to overcome our fear. It allows us to take risks so we can experience faith. A life without uncertainty is the end of the imagination; the death of the imagined; the negation of faith." -- Brian Hendricks, The Beauty Of Uncertainty